Beekeepers of all stripes were buzzing with success stories Sunday at the Omaha Bee Club’s annual honey market in the Bohemian Cemetery.
The 200-member club has grown steadily over the past few years, and master beekeeper Lynn Danzer of Council Bluffs credits that resurgence to a renewed interest in natural foods. Danzer said he taught 45 new beekeepers this year, 36 in 2017 and 20 in 2016.
“A lot of people are coming back for the natural whole food aspect,” said Danzer, who has been a beekeeper for 49 years. “They want to get back to the basics. The clubs are getting stronger and stronger. There are eight clubs in Iowa with at least 50 members each.”
There are approximately 120,000 amateur beekeepers in the U.S., Bee Culture magazine reported last year. The number of commercial honeybee colonies in the U.S. rose by 3 percent to 2.89 million as of April 1, 2017, compared with a year earlier, the Agriculture Department reported.
In recent years, major cities including New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles have lifted restrictions on the practice, and amateur beekeepers are introducing hives to their backyards, roofs and gardens.
New beekeepers are catching the bug for harvesting their own honey after reading articles and watching TV programs about the important role bees play in agriculture, Danzer said.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have students monitoring the club’s 12 teaching hives in the Bohemian Cemetery at 52nd and Center Streets.
“We’re building links to beekeeping at the universities and through the (Douglas-Sarpy County) extension office,” he said. “Our apiary here (at the cemetery) is a great tool for teaching.”
When Steven Buckley of Council Bluffs got into beekeeping three years ago, he didn’t waste any time. A welder by trade, Buckley spent a year following Danzer around to earn his master beekeeper distinction.
“I wish I could do this full time,” he said. “It’s a blast. You get a hive that has 60,000 to 80,000 bees, and you open it up. It’s so neat to watch.”
That’s the same feeling retirees Cheryl Gresham and Kathie Cooper of Omaha get when they are tending their hives at a farm near Springfield. After just two years, the women are hooked, Gresham said.
“Bees are such smart creatures,” she said. “Watching the way they nurture their young and how they store their honey for the winter is amazing. We’re thinking it’s going to be another nasty winter because our bees are storing a lot of the honey near the bottom of the hive.”
The club invites anyone interested in learning more about beekeeping to come to its meetings the third Sunday of each month at the Nebraska Extension office for Douglas and Sarpy Counties at 8105 West Center Road from 1 to 3 p.m. The club also has a Facebook page that tells of coming events that are open to the public.
“Ladies are getting involved, kids are getting involved,” said Phil Lee of Omaha, one of the club’s board members. “Beekeeping is something any age group can learn.”
And if you want to support honeybees but don’t want to work the hives?
“Plant flowers,” Lee said. “A lot of the neighborhoods out west in Omaha are just grass and trees. We like the old neighborhoods where people still grow lots of flowers.”